How to recruit trustees and local governors
Work through these step-by-step processes to recruit new trustees and local governors. Find help with identifying your needs, advertising the role, screening candidates and making the appointment.
Use our other article if you're looking to recruit maintained school governors.
Conduct a skills audit to identify your board's needs
The first step when recruiting new trustees is to identify what skills and experience your board needs from a new member, for it to be effective.
Use our skills audit to do this. It's based on the Department for Education's competency framework.
If any third-party organisations are helping you recruit new trustees, share your skills audit with them.
Clarify who does what in the recruitment process
The recruitment process will vary based on:
- Whether you need to hold an election for a parent trustee, if you have parent representation at trust level
- Who is making the appointment. It could be:
- The trust's members
- Trustees who weren't co-opted themselves
- A sponsor body or foundation
- A religious diocese
Check your articles of association to see how many of each type of trustee you need. Make sure you're clear on the rules for appointing academy trustees.
Work with your local tier on parent trustee elections
Even though organising an election is board of trustees' responsibility. you're likely to need support from your schools' headteachers and local governing body (LGB) chairs. They'll be able to make sure all parents are notified of the election, including their right to stand, and make sure the ballot runs smoothly. Find out how to run a parent trustee election.
Know who is responsible for sourcing potential trustees
Even though some of your trustees will be member-appointed, members might delegate the process of finding them to your board of trustees. They may expect you to provide a formal recommendation for their approval. Check your articles of association to see how many trustees members can appoint.
If your trust has a governance lead, finding suitable candidates could be part of their role, too, and they might be able to help you source new trust board-appointed trustees.
Check your recruitment process is effective
If you want to get feedback on your process and check that it's suitably rigorous, you could engage an external adviser to monitor and advise. You could contact an Independent Governor Support member to do this.
Use a recruitment organisation like Governors for Schools
Finding trustees can be tricky. Governors for Schools is a charity that will find you trustees with the specific skills you need.
You can make use of its skills-based matching service to find prospective candidates who have the skills you're looking for.
Before you sign up, conduct your skills audit and decide on your required start date. You can then register your vacancy with them, specifying the skills you're looking for, and they'll start looking for a suitable volunteer.
Create a tailored advert
In your advert, set out:
- Who can apply
- The role and functions of the trust board
- What training and development opportunities they'll get
- A brief description of your trust and its schools
- The expectations of new trustees, particularly regarding their attendance at meetings and membership of committees
- The skills and experience that you want your new trustees to have
Use our role description templates to help. The article also includes examples from trusts.
Make sure your advert tackles common misconceptions about governance – find out how to do this in our article on encouraging parents to become governors.
Point out how valuable prospective candidates' existing skills are
By linking these with the skills needed for a particular role, you help them to realise that they're suitable for the job.
Highlight the new skills they'll gain
Explain that trust governance allows you to develop your skills, both personally and professionally. Trustees could add the following skills and experience to their CV:
- Strategic planning
- Experience on a board
- Holding senior leaders to account
- Finance, and maintaining oversight of potentially multimillion-pound budgets
- Human resources and performance management
- Project management
- Communication and teamwork
- Decision making
Mitigate the common concerns
Address potential concerns and misconceptions head-on. People can often think that:
- It'll take up all their time
- Explain upfront that governance usually requires about 6 to 8 hours per month (term time only)
- Only parents can be trustees
- This is an easy one to refute!
- They aren't experienced enough because they haven't been on a board before
- To make the role seem less intimidating, explain that school governors and trustees are the largest volunteer force in education, with around 210,000 people involved in governance in England, and highlight the training they'll receive
- There will be a better candidate
- Reiterate that your board is in need of applicants, and point out that there's a national vacancy rate of 10% – i.e. there are many empty seats
Tailor your 'selling points'
Emphasise different benefits depending on what will resonate most with the people you want to recruit. Consider your context and think about your community.
- If you're targeting professionals, highlight the professional development and CV-building angle
- Emphasise the opportunity to gain board-level experience, strategic decision-making skills, and experience of performance management at a high level
- If you're contacting big companies or those in the corporate sector, highlight the philanthropic nature of the role – many people in the corporate sector are keen to give back in their spare time
- Big companies also often have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative and are keen to encourage volunteering among their employees, so you could ask them to include governance in their CSR programmes
- If you’re in a rural setting, you could focus more on the 'giving back' angle and community engagement
- If you need younger people on your board – push the job experience angle
- Younger people are unlikely to get this board-level experience in their normal career paths for a long time
Where to look for new trustees
Develop your LGBs
If you're part of a MAT, investing in your LGBs' training and development will give you a pool of skilled and engaged people who are already committed to governance and your schools. Find tips on helping your LGBs be effective and engaged.
Recruiting from within your existing governance structures also allows your trust to strengthen its relationship with the local tier. It will result in a trust board that's more representatives of the communities your schools serve.
Work with a diversity partner
Your governance will be all the better for having a range of perspectives and experiences at the table.
A diverse board leads to more robust decision-making and has a positive impact on strategic direction, as well as helping you make sure your trust board reflects your schools' communities (see pages 15, 36 and 41 of the Governance Handbook).
You'll find links to diversity partners who can help you recruit in our article on recruiting missing talent.
Contact organisations and businesses
Consider the organisations and suppliers your trust works with in the field you're looking for (e.g. your legal advisers if you want a lawyer) – you already have a relationship here, so lean on that, give them a call and outline what you’re looking for to see if they can help.
Adapt our template letter to send to organisations to help find trustees:
Create an application pack
If you're not using a recruitment service, or would like to do your own screening as well, use our template application form.
As part of your application pack, make sure applicants have enough information to make an informed choice about applying for the role.
Meet all prospective trustees
Do this in person if your trust's geography allows, or online if not. This will help you:
- Make sure they know what's expected of them
- Get a sense of what they will be like to work with, and get a more accurate impression of them as people
Ideally, arrange for them to go on a tour of 1 of your schools with the headteacher, too.
Conduct an interview
When appointing trustees, form a selection panel to help you choose the right people. Ask questions like:
- Why do you want to be a trustee?
- What skills and experience can you bring to the board?
- Why do you think these would make you an effective trustee?
- Why have you chosen our trust?
- How much time can you dedicate to the role?
- How would you deal with a situation where you really disagree with others on the board?
- What do you understand about confidentiality on the board?
For further inspiration, take a look at some more interview questions for prospective trustees.
References aren't required, but are common practice. Seeking a reference will help you confirm that your new trustees have the skills you need. If you want to seek a reference, use our template referee form and reference letter.
Conduct safeguarding checks
All trustees need to have a DBS check. Read more about DBS checks for trustees.
Appoint and induct your new trustee
This will depend on the type of trustee you've recruited. Read the rules on appointing academy trustees.
Training and induction
Once you've appointed your trustee, the chair should:
- Adapt and send our model welcome letter
- Meet with the new trustee, if they haven't already
Then, arrange an induction. Use our checklist for new trustees – a step-by-step guide to the tasks they should undertake. Point them in the direction of our induction course for academy trustees. They can take this course in 1 go, or in smaller chunks as it suits them, and they'll get a certificate for passing the assessment.
Read more about organising an effective induction in our full range of articles.
Matt Miller is a national leader of governance and delivers training programmes for governing bodies. He is the chair of governors of an 'outstanding' school in north London.